There are noodle soups and there is pho, Vietnam’s richly complex gift to the world.
From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, chefs at high-end restaurants and cooks at chain eateries understand pho’s power. So do street vendors, those serving customers who slurp the restorative brew while perched on child-size plastic stools.
“When you eat a bowl of soup in Vietnam, you experience almost everything, culinarily speaking, that the Vietnamese value,” chef Charles Phan writes in his book “Vietnamese Home Cooking” (Ten Speed Press, $35).
Those values? A stock that’s “never thickened,” a mix of textures, plus aromatics, often fresh herbs, toasted garlic and chopped green onions. And while Phan notes that Vietnamese cooks prepare both brothy meal openers and full-meal noodle soups, it is the noodle soup called pho (say: fuh) that is the worldwide star.
The deeply flavored pho broth — paired with noodles and meat, usually pho bo (beef) or pho ga (chicken), plus garnishes — soothes and satisfies at breakfast (or lunch or supper).
Beef Noodle Soup (Pho Bo)
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Adapted from Charles Phan’s “Vietnamese Home Cooking.” His aromatic stock is flavored with star anise, cinnamon, clove and cardamom and simmers for at least 5 hours. Don’t have the time? You can sub with pho soup bases, which can be found in some supermarkets. Or consider simmering a light beef broth (hold the carrots and celery) with a small cinnamon stick, a whole clove, a star anise pod and a cardamom pod for an hour. To make paper-thin raw beef top round slices, freeze the meat for 15 minutes, slice thin, then pound thinner with a meat mallet.
1 pound beef brisket
3 quarts beef stock (see recipe, page 5)
1 package (16 ounces) dried wide rice noodles, cooked according to package directions
12 ounces beef top round, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
Garnishes: Thai basil sprigs, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, jalapenos thinly sliced into rings, Sriracha sauce, hoisin sauce
1. Place brisket in a large pot; add stock. Heat to a boil over high heat; lower to a vigorous simmer. Simmer until cooked through, 30-45 minutes. To check doneness, remove brisket from pot; poke with chopstick. Juices should run clear.
2. A few minutes before brisket is ready, prepare an ice-water bath. When brisket is done, remove from pot; submerge in ice water. Reserve cooking liquid. When brisket is cool, remove from ice water. Pat dry; thinly slice against the grain. Set aside.
3. Return stock to a boil. Season with fish sauce, if needed. Arrange garnishes on a platter, sauces alongside. Divide cooked rice noodles evenly among large warmed soup bowls. Divide brisket slices among the bowls, then raw beef slices. (They will cook lightly when stirred into the broth.) Ladle boiling hot stock over top. Top with green onions; serve immediately with garnishes.
Makes: 6 servings
Nutrition per serving: 639 calories, 18 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 116 mg cholesterol, 72 g carbohydrates, 44 g protein, 1971 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Charles Phan’s tips:
Warm large serving bowls.
Arrange garnishes and sauces at the table.
Have broth at a full boil.
Put cooked noodles in bowl.
Top with cooked meat.
Add a few slices of raw meat.
Ladle boiling-hot broth over all.
Each person adds garnishes as desired.